So first I have to rewind a few years. I am visiting my dear friend, Allison (as in we knew each other before husbands and kids) in Boston and she was excited to take me to a favorite new bakery called Flour. Bakeries often disappoint me… they refrigerate things that should be kept at room temperature and they make things in such large batches that they lose the care and attention that good baking deserves. But not so at Flour Bakery, where even the vegan and gluten-free offerings are scrumptious. Pastry chef and owner Joanne Chang, a Harvard grad who got her start selling chocolate chip cookies while at college, opened Flour (there are now several in Boston in Cambridge) in 2000 and was the 2016 James Beard Award Winner for Outstanding Baker. Before I even had my first bite of her many delicious offerings I knew just from the display and the array of options that I was not going to leave disappointed. Now I always make a Flour Bakery pit stop when I am in the Boston area.
Allison, being the good friend that she is, has also gifted me several of Joanne Chang’s signed cookbooks. In this digital age when we can find so many recipes on hand, I have to make a concerted effort to remember that I have an extensive cookbook collection and sometimes I will just devote an afternoon to looking through some of them and reacquainting myself with recipes that are dog-eared because they looked intriguing or have been tried and tested. Such was the case on a day when I wanted to whip up something for dessert using berries left over from our Thanksgiving brunch fruit salad. I knew Joanne (yes, we are on a first name basis, even though she isn’t aware of that fact) would come through with a good recipe, and she sure did. I pulled out her Pastry Love cookbook and the Stone Fruit and Berry Financier Cake with Toasted Meringue called out my name.
This combines so many of my favorite things – almonds, meringue, and fruit. It feels decadent and is impressive to behold when done, especially once the meringue puffs up in the oven, but it is surprisingly light. This is not a dessert that will leave you feeling like you need to plop on the nearest couch and recover from your indulgence. And it is not nearly as complicated as it looks, so you get the oohs and aahs without too much effort on your part. That is a winner in my book. Allison, I promise to make it for you the next time you visit!
Stone Fruit and Berry Financier Cake with Toasted Meringue
1 cup sliced almonds
1 1/3 cups almond flour
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
7 large egg whites (about 7/8 of a cup), at room temperature, for the cake
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups assorted ripe but not mushy stone fruit and/or berries
(weight will vary: use 2 or 3 of the following: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, halved if large, pitted cherries, thinly sliced pitted peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines)
6 large egg whites (about ¾ cup), at room temperature, for the meringue
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes, until pale golden brown (like maple wood). Set aside, but leave the oven on.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan or spray it with pan spray. (You can use a cake pan if you don’t have a springform pan, but it will be trickier to remove the cake from the pan.)
In a large bowl, use a whisk to stir together the almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, whole wheat flour and salt. Add the melted butter, the 7 egg whites for the cake, and the vanilla and whisk until the batter is smooth and has no lumps. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan midway through the baking time, until the batter just sets and the top is not tacky when you touch it lightly.
Remove the cake from the oven and arrange the fruit in a single layer on top of the batter. Set it aside, leaving the oven on.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the 6 egg whites for the meringue on medium speed until the wires of the whisk start to leave a trail in the whites, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the superfine sugar, ¼ cup at a time, whipping for about 15 seconds before adding the next quarter cup; repeat until all the sugar has been added. Increase the mixer speed to high and whip for 1 to 2 minutes, until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Fold in the toasted almonds. Scrape the meringue into the pan on top of the fruit and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly across the fruit. It should come about level to the top of the cake pan; discard any extra meringue. Make swirly patterns in the meringue with the offset spatula.
Place the cake on a baking sheet to catch any drips and place it in the oven. (The meringue puffs and grows so you want plenty of room above the cake to allow for it to grow.) Note: I did not heed this advice and did not leave enough room. I had to remove the rack above the cake midway through baking! Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the cake midway through the baking time (also a good time to observe that you didn’t give it enough room to grow!) until the meringue is toasty brown on top.
Remove the cake from the oven and the baking sheet and let it cool completely on a wire rack. Run a knife around the sides of the springform pan and remove the sides. Transfer the cake from the pan bottom to a serving plate. (You will need to invert it onto a flat plate and then flip it back over if you baked it in a cake pan rather than a springform pan. It might get a little beat up in the process but it will still be tasty!)
Use a serrated knife to cut the cake. The meringue will crumble a bit and be a bit messy to cut but it is so delicious that no one will care once they eat it.
Leftover cake can be stored, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 2 days. Or it can be given to friends and neighbors and make a whole bunch of people happy.